The Stories that Nourish our Faith in God
20 April 2019 – Vigil of Easter
The great Vigil of Easter is a waiting time when the church sits with the stories that have built up our identity as followers of Christ. Like the disciples, we come to the tomb in the dark to give honor to the one who was killed. While we are there, we recall all the experiences of our ancestors who were confronted by God, given aid in time of trouble, who knew the one who created all that exists in the universe.
Among the passages, we hear about the characters that populate the scriptures: Noah, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Pharaoh, Wisdom, Ezekiel, Jonah, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego showing King Nebuchadnezzar the power of their steadfast loving God.
These are wondrous and sometimes hard stories to hear, but we rejoice in their coming to us again this year as last and next year because they tell us who we are. We are born of the world interpreted by these stories. They shape our perceptions, lead us to acknowledge our inevitable failings, and assure us of God’s forgiveness and renewal.
In candlelight, singing responses, hearing prayers, with a baptism, perhaps, and preaching and finally the meal of Jesus’ body and blood, this is the night that pulls all of our faith expressions together. Don’t miss it! –– Melinda Quivik
READINGS from the Hebrew Bible/ the Old Testament:
Genesis 1:1—2:4a: Creation
Genesis 7:1–5, 11–18; 8:6–18; 9:8–13: Flood
Genesis 22:1–18: Testing of Abraham
Exodus 14:10–31; 15:20–21: Deliverance at the Red Sea
Isaiah 55:1–11: Salvation freely offered to all
Proverbs 8:1–8, 19–21; 9:4b–6: The wisdom of God
Ezekiel 36:24–28: A new heart and a new spirit
Ezekiel 37:1–14: Valley of the dry bones
Zephaniah 3:14–20: Gathering of God’s people
Jonah 1:1––2:1: Deliverance of Jonah
Isaiah 61:1-4, 9-11: Clothed in the garments of salvation
Daniel 3:1-29: Deliverance from the fiery furnace
In Luke’s version of the Easter story three named women come to the tomb at early dawn on the first day of the week . . . Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. Finding the stone rolled away and the body absent, they do not know how to interpret these events. But two men (or angels) appear and offer an interpretation: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
The women . . . interpret this perplexing event by recourse to the teaching of Jesus. . . [and] return from the tomb . . . to interpret the event to the rest of the disciples. Yet they fail to believe the women: “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter must go and see the empty tomb for himself before he will believe.
Note that in Mark, the women flee the tomb and say nothing to anyone (Mark 16:8). In Matthew, the women leave the empty tomb at the instruction of the angel and the risen Jesus meets them on the way and instructs them to go to Galilee and announce the resurrection (Matthew 28:9–10). In Luke, neither the women, nor even Peter are the first to see the risen Jesus (24:12). Rather, as the story continues, it will be the disciples on the Emmaus Road . . . . who will be the first to see him, when their eyes are opened in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:13–35). –– Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke
During the reign of the Roman emperor Nero (54–68 C.E.), Nero rescinded the earlier edict of the Emperor Claudius, which had expelled all Israelites from Rome. . . . Jews were again free to enter Rome, and it is plausible that tensions between Jewish and gentile Christians developed within the Roman church. This would account for Paul’s references to the Jews, to Abraham, to the law, and to Israel throughout the letter.
These are not just theological devices, but . . . reflect true tensions . . . within the community. Paul uses the rhetorical style of the diatribe [imagining] a question being posed by an interlocutor . . . The question in chapter 6 concerns whether to abound in sin. And what is the particular sin? It is likely that Paul is here advising the gentile audience against participation in Greco–Roman mystery cults, in which a meal would be held celebrating a cyclical view of the natural seasons and the associated deity.
Paul reminds his readers that to die and rise with Christ means to share in the life and death of Christ through baptism. This sharing is both now and not yet: we have already shared in the death of Christ and our sins are already forgiven. Yet we anticipate the day to come when we will be united with Christ in a resurrection like his: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” –– Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke
Melinda A. Quivik, an ELCA pastor and former professor of liturgy and homiletics, is the Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy. Her most recent book is Remembering God’s Promises: A Funeral Planning Handbook (Augsburg Fortress, 2018).
Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke is senior pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Wilmette, Illinois, and president of The Liturgical Conference.
Homily Service 40, no. 5 (2007): 43-54.